One Halloween, Judge David Johnson trick or treated as a medical school cadaver. It was lots of fun until the cops came and pepper-sprayed him.
The cost of medical school may be your life.
That's the DVD's official tagline and it's lame. I would have gone more with "A feisty blonde swims in a formaldehyde tank and battles the spirit of an Aztec god."
Facts of the Case
Yet another of the "Eight Films to Die For" from the After Dark Horrorfest, Unrest takes us into the teeth of a first-year medical school class as the students get set to dig into their cadavers. Your heroine for this go-round is Alison Blanchard (Corri English) a perky, agnostic young woman donning the medical scrubs for the first time. But when she meets her introductory cadaver, she immediately falls to her knees and passes out, a reaction she has no answer for. Reluctantly she admits to her co-students that she hurled because of a supernatural presence, which sets her on a course to find out the history behind the mysterious corpse. With her colleague and boy toy Brian (Scot Davis) at her side, she draws closer to the truth, even as those closest to her meet sinister ends one at a time.
The big gimmick with this film was the real corpse that was used in the cadaver scenes, and, yeah, I'll admit that that's pretty gross, but this film is able to shake free of a word-of-mouth gimmick and deliver the horror goods. Buoyed by a creative story with reveals that come out of nowhere, compelling performances and some truly disgusting imagery, Unrest deserves a look from horror fans looking for a small flick made on the cheap that works considerably better than most of its diametric opposites.
Getting the gimmick out of the way, yes the "real cadaver" approach is nifty, and yes it added a sense of slimy realism to the proceedings, but it shouldn't be focused on as the sole marketing point of the film. Unrest stands on its own, regardless if the corpses were real or rubber. Start with the story, a boilerplate haunting tale marked with the typical genre conventions: mysterious deaths, a dark, claustrophobic setting, and the hero's sixth sense that's immediately questioned by her superior. But as the yarn rolls forward the story gains traction and when the hand is fully shown, I'll confess, I was intrigued. Suddenly, a typical ghost saga becomes Ghost Apocalypto, and the juxtaposition between the more epic source of the otherworldly malfeasance and the intimate nature of the cast and locale (hospital hallways and examination rooms) is effective.
The narrative does take its time building, but thankfully the cast is charming enough to keep the film from imploding. English is wicked cute and her tenacity drives the plot forward. She's well-matched with Davis, who holds his own as the leading man. The two create a relationship that actually boasts some emotional weigh, or at least enough to make me hope that the guy doesn't get smoked. That's a major accomplishment of gravitas for a low-budget horror film. The supporting characters are interesting in their own right, but mainly just fill stereotypical roles (head teacher that doesn't believe the protagonist until its too late, semi-cool friend earmarked to die so we feel kind of bad).
As far as violence, the killings are fairly soft here. Just about all the blood is after-the-fact, and even then, save for the final sequence where the Karo syrup tub gets dumped over, the majority of the gore is limited to the cadaver dissections. Again, as stated, that still has the potential for an upset stomach or two. Viewer discomfort is generated mainly by the ick factor of having to watch things like peeling back the rib cage, Alison and Brian doing the backstroke in a corpse-filled formaldehyde tank and decent self-inflicted throat slitting.
So dig on this movie if you're so moved to check out a well-executed horror film. Unrest relies on the strength of its story and acting to make it watchable, versus cheap jump scares and copious gore, and it's a gamble that pays off and deserved some support.
The video transfer is strong, a 1.85:1 treatment that both preserves the muted, sterile look of the hospital and its surroundings and brings out the sharp colors of the sinew. Two extras on the disc: a lively and insightful feature commentary by director Jason Todd Ipson and editor Mike Saenz and a short behind-the-scenes featuring cast and crew interviews.
An imaginative and interesting piece of work, Unrest trumped its own gimmick. Recommended.
Load this sucker up with formaldehyde and dismiss the charges.
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